Don’t tell young people that unemployment, low pay and insecure work are good for them
The way in which young workers (or want-to-be workers) is discussed in the media and public debate is something which frequently grates on me, and I can’t be the only young person who feels like this. The article “jobs for the boys and girls” in the Economist was no exception, and this blog post seeks to challenge some of the points that it made.
Youth unemployment is STILL a problem
“In Britain it [youth unemployment] has nosedived. The employment rate of young people not in full-time education is now at its highest since 2004.”
Sentences such as this make it appear that youth unemployment is a thing of the past. However, whilst youth unemployment has fallen, it is still an astonishing 13.6%, nearly three times higher than the unemployment rate for the working age population in general.
What is more, since records began in 1992 youth unemployment has not fallen below 11.6%. As the graph below shows, even in the midst of recession the unemployment rates for other age groups remained far below this figure.
And, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t have to be the case. The UK has one of the highest ratios of youth to adult unemployment in Europe, which indicates that the UK’s young people are faring particularly badly in the labour market relative to older workers.
Young people are NOT to be pitied
“In April a “national living wage” comes into force… But it does not cover those under 25, and Len Shackleton of Buckingham University says that this may have already created a bias among employers towards hiring youngsters.”
As announced in 2016’s Budget, from October the national minimum wage for young people will increase. However, even then 24 year olds can permissibly be paid 25p less per hour than those who are 25. There are also no assurances that the minimum wages for younger workers will rise as fast as the “national living wage”.
I have heard several justifications for not extending the “national living wage” for those over 21, but this seems especially bogus. Len Shackleton is an Economics Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs. Their latest blog post about the national minimum wage argued this:
“The most damaging aspect of this is the intellectual idea will take hold that business should set wages so as to cover the living costs of their employees, as opposed to paying people for the work they do.”
Personally, I don’t think it that ‘damaging’ that employers should be expected to pay enough for their workers to live on. Last I heard 100% of UK employers considered ‘being alive’ more important than other key aspects of employment, such as time management and team skills. Indeed, I believe that most employers value the ‘living’ aspect of their employees, and see it as such a key prerequisite of employment it’s not even in the person specification.
The patronising suggestion that young adults need to be paid less to find work is something I struggle with. Young adults are not the custard creams to the kit-kats of the over 25s. They are highly qualified, and often surpass older adults in skills employers really value, such as IT. Given the fact that most jobs covered by the “national living wage” are still going to be low-skilled, it is far from obvious that a 21 year old will be worse at the job than a 25 year old. Seeing their colleague paid more for the same work can only serve to discourage younger people.
I also question the truth behind the theory that because young adults are paid less, their minimum wage should always be lower so as to protect their employment. We know that 21-24 year olds are paid comparable amounts to older women in the workforce. Would we propose a different minimum wage for older women? Of course not. Perhaps government policy should serve to reduce social inequality (in whatever form it takes), rather than reinforce it.
As a young person I would love to go to the supermarket and get a “young person’s discount” on a pint of milk. But sadly such a thing does not exist. Young workers often live independently and they may well have children of their own to care for. If we believe that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay, the fact that young people are generally just as skilled, just as hardworking and find the cost of living just as expensive should give an indication of what pay is appropriate.
Young people NEED jobs which sustain them
“Tech-literate youngsters are also well suited to the “gig” economy, in which short-term employment is arranged online or through apps… Uber claims that, in America, its drivers are twice as likely as conventional cabbies to be under 30.”
This point follows on from the last. Latest figures show that young people are more than three times as likely to be on zero hour contracts than the working age population in general. The flexibility may suit some, but this phenomena is far from benign. We know that insecure work goes hand in hand with poverty pay. With no guaranteed hours and low incomes, young people are left unable to plan for the future, or even know if they will be able to pay the bills.